Principles of Practice

I was recently asked privately a question that I hadn’t really answered myself.

Do you use any particular methodologies or models [in your personal practice]?

So I thought about it and responded that there are two “models” that rather unconsciously or habitually guided my work practices as I began to shift away from a training-centric mindset. Note that all of which I share here can be read in depth at the respected sites noted.

The first is Wirearchy. Since my focus can now be said to be more in digital learning (Which I see as learning through technology vs. learning with technology) helping surface these powerful undercurrents of knowledge exchange is key today and social technology certainly can aid in this effort. My known affinity for 702010 should be obvious too as it certainly aligns very well to this emergent organizing principle. Wirearchy though is not about learning per se, according to Jon Husband, who authored the principle, it’s a dynamic two-way flow of power. When realized and supported in organizations, I believe Wirearchy can change the actual design of the organization. Learning is ultimately about behavior change and if you truly desire long-term change in behaviors, I believe the systems in organizations need to be addressed (human systems related to authority, communication, rewards for example). Additionally, I look to Cynefin Framework (admittedly I’m still quite a student of it) but it does help in identifying current states (habitats). One of the four domains is labeled Complex. Much of the work being done today and even organizations themselves are complex. Navigating in complexity according to Cynefin demands a Probe-Sense-Respond approach as there is no one right answer and/or the many interconnected parts can be impacted by just changing one effort. Therefore, run small experiments, gather and asses the data and take action all apply to help shift behavior in dynamic situations.

Both Wirearchy and Cynefin are larger than strategy of course and far beyond just organizational learning. I prefer them though as each are flexible and today’s world of work is much more fluid. Additionally we cannot see learning apart from work any longer. Many of the “tried & true” used by consultants arose during the last century and are honestly not valid or just too rigid. Typically they are much too slow to enact and build through best practices rather than best principles. This seems unacceptable to me as each organization is as unique as a fingerprint, one must be flexible, understand and leverage the power of networks, and draw on best principles not practices to succeed.

How Do We Navigate Complexity within Complexity?

Technology has created disruption outside and inside organizations today. Ignoring it as a passing phase leads an organization to the risk of being made obsolete and trying to reverse the trends, to fight the momentum is futile, the walls have been breached. But this complexity that’s transforming business isn’t the only one and frankly isn’t the most disruptive. The very platform all organizations and organisms are on is being disrupted; Climate change – a passing phase? Reverse the trends? Is it too late?

I recently sat in a presentation on global sustainability where this graphic and the details of a scientific study were shared.

A_Safe_and_Just_Space_for_Humanity
Source: Oxfam. The 11 dimensions of the social foundation are illustrative and are based on governments’ priorities for Rio+20. Based on the planetary boundaries set out by Rockström et al (2009b)

The graphic, a 2D rendering of a 3D model reveals that already 3 of the ecological boundaries that we should not breach… have been breached; climate change, loss of biodiversity, and the altering of the natural nitrogen cycle. Some scientists like James Lovelock have stated that we’re past the tipping point. There is no hope. Game over. No going back. If true, there is no time to waste in hoping and praying. Even activities like recycling and lowering greenhouse gas emissions, although beneficial, won’t stop what has begun; climate change is now a self reinforcing loop.

According to Lovelock we must now prepare for, rather than try to prevent, a world of continual and unpredictable change. This is not merely a complex problem it’s a state of perpetual complexity, our new habitat?

Dave Snowden developed the Cynefin framework to help in understanding 4 habitats (Obvious, Complicated, Complex, and Chaotic). In complexity, “the agents and the system constrain one another, especially over time. This means that we cannot forecast or predict what will happen.” Sounds about as right for climate change as it does for disruption in business.

Dave Snowden further points out, that in complexity we only really know what right looks like in hindsight. Therefore to navigate complexity he says we must take a probe-sense-respond approach. Many interpret this as the new business mentality but if our world becomes increasingly unstable it’s a mentality we must all have; Business, Government, workers, and citizen. We must all play collective roles beyond decision-making around ecological choices now and take similar action in observing and reporting thought various channels and networks the change we see happening in order to respond accordingly.

Maybe then all this disruptive technology and the principles it is awakening are coincidentally appearing at the same time we reach the most disruptive time in human history?

  • Social technology fueling focused global information sharing (see the work done where Twitter is used to sense earthquakes before seismologists can)
  • Trusted networks aid in the open analysis of data and sense-making
  • Personal Knowledge Management and Curation become the key skills to be learned
  • The 70:20:10 principle guides better decisions in organizational learning in order to remain agile
  • Big Data keeps the pulse on more than the business climate

Much of this is happening of course but probably not at the scale it needs to or needs to be shared to become the default skills and approaches. If the stage is set and the new normal is global complexity, then it will now require us to step back, patiently allow the patterns to unfold, and with greater connectivity of people and data I’m optimistic solutions will emerge.